Thursday, September 6, 2012

19 Cities: Final Thoughts

Each push pin on this map shows a place I stopped on my travels to snap photos.

Since I began this blog about a year and a half ago, I have had the privilege of visiting and learning about nineteen cities in this great land of ours. And because traveling is an excellent way to expand one’s knowledge about people and places, I have dramatically increased my understanding of the United States and its amazing cultural and geographic diversity. Excepting my ventures to Juneau, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii, I chose to drive to each city from my home in Virginia so that I could see more of our “spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plains” as the song, “America the Beautiful” describes. I would have driven to both Juneau. Alasks and Honolulu, Hawaii as well, but neither is accessible by car. The map above, covered with red pushpins provides a snapshot of my travels.

As a result of maintaining this travel blog, I have now fulfilled a lifelong goal of visiting every one of our fifty states. In the past eighteen months I’ve driven over the Rocky Mountains, dipped my toes into the Great Salt Lake and the Pacific Ocean, witnessed a glacier calving, watched whales spouting, ridden a ferry across Puget Sound, viewed the Hollywood sign from atop the Griffith Observatory, learned how TV news is created each day, stood in the room where the First Continental Congress met, took a paddle wheel ride down the mighty Mississippi River, zoomed across the Everglades in an airboat, motored across the Golden Gate Bridge, went face to face with a saber-toothed cat skeleton, strolled amongst ancient majestic redwood trees, commanded the view of a huge city from atop a towering skyscraper, enjoyed a breathtaking live performance at the famed Lincoln Center, stood on the very spot where legendary Motown hits were recorded, sped on an express train from the suburbs into the heart of a major city, and zipped to the top of the largest man-made arch via a tram. And that was just for starters.

Traveling is one of the best ways I know to learn and have new experiences while broadening one’s horizons. Getting bitten by the travel bug affords a person a multitude of opportunities. Although places may vary, people across our nation share much in common. In each and every location I visited while writing this blog I learned that everyone has the same basic needs and desires: a safe place to live, high quality education, excellent affordable healthcare, access to nutritious food, as well as clean air to breath and pure safe water to drink. So, no matter how different each of us thinks we are, basically we Americans are all the same across the far flung corners of this nation. And in my vast international travels, I have found this to be true across our globe, too. In every place I have visited over my long life—including a multitude of foreign countries—I have found people who are kind and caring and respectful of others, people who freely reach out to help a stranger. I believe it is important to keep this as our focus as we learn more about our world.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Denver: The Mile High City

Denver sits one mile above sea level as measured against the level of the Gulf of Mexico. This explains why Denver is called the Mile High City. It is the capital of Colorado and also its largest metropolitan area. Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Denver is America's 23rd most populous city.

The steps to the capital show where surveyors in the late 1800s determined the city to be 5,280 feet above sea level (one mile).

As Colorado's capital city, Denver contains the seat of the state government, which meets in the capitol building for several months each year. The capitol is currently undergoing renovations, and you can see the scaffolding along the left side of the photograph. Covered in gold, the capitol dome is reminiscent of the dome of our nation's capitol in Washington, D.C. [Note: When capital is spelled with an "al" at the end, it refers to the city. When there's an "ol" at the end, it refers to the building.]

The fittest state in the Union, Denver emphasizes being green, that is, working hard to take care of the environment. You can traverse the entire city on bicycle paths, and you can even borrow a bike for free for thirty minutes from several bike stations scattered throughout the city. After the first thirty minutes, you must pay a rental fee. Using bicycles helps you stay fit while also not polluting the environment.
The people of Denver love the outdoors, and while I was there the temperature was in the 90s. This has been the hottest summer on record across America and Denver has had more continuous days above 90 degrees than in recorded history.

A Taste of Colorado
For more than thirty years, Denver has held a huge street festival called "A Taste of Colorado". It is a is a  four-day music and entertainment celebration held each year during Labor Day weekend. The festival features more than 50 food booths, about 300 vendors and artisans, six entertainment stages with live shows, and educational programs that promote both the diverse culture and western heritage of the Denver area.
Denver's Union Station
The railroads had a huge impact on the settlement and growth of the West. Originally built in the late 1800s, at one time Union Station served as the railroad hub of Denver with more than 80 trains coming and going each day. When people made the shift from trains to cars, the old station fell out of use. Currently, under renovation, Union Station soon will be utilized as a light rail hub.

While in Denver, I ate at a restaurant well known for its entertainment and food. In the photograph below, you can see the dessert of fried ice cream that I was served. Below the image of the fried ice cream, you will find a short video illustrating one example of the restaurant's entertainment. Inside is a 35' cliff with a 14' deep pool below. Every fifteen minutes while I was there, someone dived from the cliff.

This was the first time I ever ate fried ice cream. It was delicious.

Built in the late 1800s and now spanning three centuries, another restaurant in Denver is well known for its exotic menu. Featured menu items include elk, buffalo, quail, Cornish game hens and even yak and ostrich when they are available. The building has its original tin ceiling and is reminiscent of the old west. In the photograph below you can see the unusual decor.

Finally, a trip to Denver would not be complete without a visit to Hammond's Candies, one of the few remaining candy companies that creates and packages everything by hand. The 120 employees make 2,000 - 3,000 pounds of candy each day and 2,500,00 candy canes each year ... all by hand ... 70 pounds at a time. Visit this website and scroll down to watch a video, A Mile High Highlight!, illustrating candy making in progress: You can purchase Hammond's candy at many retail outlets across the USA.

All in all, Denver is a clean city with much to offer visitors. It has more public parks than any city in America. And not far out of town the great outdoors awaits.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Denver: The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Perhaps you have heard of the Unsinkable Molly Brown, a famous woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Stage plays and movies have emphasized much of the lore about her life, but the true story is much more interesting. For her day, Margaret Tobin Brown was one of the most forward thinking, accomplished and energetic women in America, and she is one of Denver's most famous historical figures.

Margaret "Molly" Tobin Brown
Born into a family of modest means, Margaret Brown was fortunate to have parents who believed it was important for girls to become educated at a time when this was fairly rare. Finishing school at thirteen, Margaret joined her father working in a factory where she learned firsthand about the long hours, unsafe working conditions, and low pay that were acceptable practices during that era. Unions were not allowed and workers had no rights.

At 19 Margaret met and married J. J. Brown, a mining engineer who eventually struck it rich through gold mining. The Browns quickly became millionaires, and they purchased a sumptuous home on Pennsylvania Avenue in Denver. Today the home, pictured below, is a historical site and serves as a museum.

Much more was to come in the life of Margaret Brown. She did survive the sinking of the Titanic and earned her nickname when she reportedly stated, "Typical Brown luck; we're unsinkable." But more importantly, Mrs. Brown worked tirelessly on behalf of those less fortunate, particularly indigent children who suffered in grinding poverty. There is an old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So our country progresses and does better when everyone's life improves.

Margaret Brown continued her work as an activist during the Progressive Movement. Also a philanthropist, she fought hard for workers' rights and on behalf of Women's Suffrage. Speaking out about injustice and the need for women to have the right to vote, Margaret Brown battled tirelessly for workers to gain both a minimum wage and an eight-hour work day. Prior to these hard-won rights, workers were required to work twelve or more hours a day, usually for a pittance.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Margaret put her energies into relief efforts for those who had suffered the ravages of the war. In France, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her work with the American Committee for Devastated France. Later, she became part of the cultural renaissance, and after moving to New York--she did keep her house in Denver--Margaret performed on stage in both Paris and New York. Margaret Tobin Brown passed away in her sleep in a New York hotel in 1932. She had lived life to the fullest while helping those less fortunate along the way. The impacts of her life are still felt by Americans today who enjoy an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, and by women who freely vote.

Denver: The Mint

We all use money and handle it a multitude of times throughout our lives. But many of us never think about the money that passes through our hands whether it be paper currency or coins. Can you name the denominations of all the money currently in circulation in the United States? Do you know who is being honored on each one? For each coin or bill can you describe what is on each side as well as what it means or represents? Do you know where and how it is made? All of the money our country produces has an interesting history, and it is worth learning about.

Do you know what this coin is? Who's image is on it? Find the date at the bottom right. What letter is under the date? What does it mean, and why is it there? The "D" stands for Denver, the city where the coin was minted. Coins have been struck at the current Denver Mint since early 1906. If you visit Denver, you can take a tour of the Denver Mint to see in person how coins are created. You also can see the process for minting coins by visiting this website:

Denver Mint
The largest producer of coins in the entire world is in Denver, Colorado. Here all denominations of United States circulating coins are made as well as coin dies, uncirculated coin sets, and other commemorative coins that have been authorized by the United States Congress. These are all legal tender, that is, money that you can spend. In addition, both gold and silver bullion are stored at the Denver Mint.

The history of how it all began in Denver is fascinating. Gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858 causing adventuresome individuals to head for the Rocky Mountains. Settlers, miners, and merchants arrived in Denver hoping to capitalize on the discovery. By 1859, the city of Denver was founded and began to grow. As miners found gold, they would bring it to an assay office to have it evaluated for quality and then melted and cast into ingots. The gold bars were then stamped showing both their weight and the quality of the gold. As a result, the United States government established the Denver Branch Mint facility in 1863, but it only served as an assay office for 46 years and did not mint coins. Both gold and silver continued to be mined in Colorado throughout the latter part of the 1800s, so much so that by 1895 more than $5,600,000 in these precious metals were assayed in Denver each year. Outgrowing its facility in a local Denver bank, in 1896 the government purchased a site to build a new Denver Mint.

In 1904, the US government converted the Denver Assay Office into a working mint that strikes coins. To meet this need a larger facility--the one in the photo above--was erected on the new site, and by 1906 it was in full operation. In its first year alone, the new Denver Mint struck more than 167,000,000 gold and silver coins. Today the Denver Mint has the capacity to produce 50,000,000 coins per day.

Colorado State Quarter
Throughout the history of the United States, there have been many mints in various cities across the country, but most are no longer in operation. Today, the US Mint maintains these facilities in addition to the Denver Mint: 
  • United States Mint Headquarters in Washington, DC
  • United States Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • United States Mint in San Francisco, California
  • United States Mint in West Point, New York
  • United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
If you have an interest in coins, you can begin a collection. I began one when I was ten, and I continue to add to the collection today. It is an interesting and enjoyable hobby, and some of my favorite coins were ones I received in change after making a purchase. Coin collectors are called numismatists. Here are a few fun facts about coins that I have learned over the years while collecting coins:

1. Originally laws required that all United States coins to be made of gold, silver, or copper but that changed in the 1960s. Today's coins are made of nickel, zinc, and copper.
2. From 1942-1945 five-cent coins contained no nickel and instead were made from an alloy because nickel was needed for the war effort.
3. Pennies made before 1909 were called Indian Heads because the image on the coin was an Indian chief.
4. From 1856-1858 there were pennies called "white cents" made from copper and nickel. 
5. After 25 years in usage, a coin design can be changed by order of the Secretary of the Treasury. 
6. "Wheat pennies" were coined from 1909 to 1958 when the backs had wheat stalks on them.
7. In 1943 pennies were made of steel and turned a dark gray. 
8. A coin will last in circulation for about 30 years. 
9. The first commemorative coin was made in 1892 to celebrate the Columbian Exposition.
10. When the first Lincoln penny was minted in 1909, it had the designer's initials at the bottom in tiny letters. VDB stood for Victor D. Brenner.